Ode to Zero Hour

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While revisiting old comics, I dived back into some of DC’s mid-90s Zero Hour event. This was an important event for me as a comics fan, as it allowed me an easy entry point into new and existing titles.

Up until Zero Hour I’d really only ever read Batman and some related titles (usually whenever there was an important crossover). Prior to that I read some X-Men and Fantastic Four, but being a young teen with not much cash I could only commit to buying so many comics each month. Considering there were four main Batman titles to keep up with, I couldn’t afford to follow many other comics. I certainly didn’t have money to waste trying out new stuff only to find that I had to get hold of tons of back issues and read other titles just to know what the hell was going on.

Zero Hour provided me with an opportunity to discover new things. For those that don’t know this event, Zero Hour was an event that handled alternate realities off the back of milestone stories such as Death of Superman and Crisis on Infinite Earths (find out more at DC Fandom). The actual issue mini-series that led the whole event was a bit anti-climactic in my opinion (basically Hal Jordan losing his shit again), but the ripple across all titles was to give them a simultaneous issue 0.

These issues were stand-alone stories showing the affect effects of Zero Hour on each character. They shone a light on the character, delving into their origins before propelling them in their next significant story arc which was, of course, affected by the fallout of Zero Hour. Additionally, a number of new titles were piloted through Zero Hour. Some were brand new pitches that emerged from the event and others were re-imaginings of existing characters (my favourite oddity with was Dr Fate reborn as Fate, a sword wielding muscle-bound warlock).

All of these issues were a gift to me – finally here was a chance to grab as many new DC titles as I wanted, get a taste of the characters without the need to understand decades of context, and chose new comics to follow. And all of this could be done with a single issue!

One of my biggest gripes about mainstream comics (and the reason I eventually stopped reading for many years) is the constant overlapping into different titles. With Batman, it was hard enough to follow just Bruce’s stories across four main titles, periodic one-shots, regular crossovers with other titles and the need to have half an eye on Justice League in case anything important happened to him there. I was reluctant to get into new things because I knew I couldn’t afford to sustain being a reader of anything else if it started to deviate from a single main title.

The Zero Hour issue 0’s aren’t all masterpieces. I found some of the new titles to be pretty awful, if I’m being honest. But I still have stacks of them because they mean a lot to me in respect of the window they opened into new territory. Recently, I’ve really enjoyed picking them back up, particularly the issues for Lobo, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and Superman: Man of Steel. You can find various 0’s on eBay for pretty cheap, so if you missed out on this at the time why not take a look for some characters you always wanted to read and try them out.

New inputs, new outputs

Over the last month I have made some great progress with Heads! issue 5 and I’m proud to let you all know a third of the art is now complete. Oddly, I find that I’m drawing less under lockdown. I used to pick up  pencil several times a day, even if I was only managing a quick sketch of a fiddle with a panel here and there. At the moment I now tend to have about three evenings when I get round to doing anything, but I have been trying to dedicate solid time to art when I can.

The result is 11 pages of sci-fi mystery madness which will be concluding the current Heads! series. I’ve taken the opportunity (as usual) to try new things with this issue. The most noticeable is that I’m sticking in a ton of cameos from friends in it. As fans will know, Vortex Face associate Parsh is actually based on my brother-in-law, but I have slid a load of mates into this one. Largely, these are people who have helped me create the comic or have been particularly supportive of my work. I don’t do photo-realistic portrait work so these characters are drawn in my style based on real people, but its helped me stretch a little as it makes me follow a specific look that I have not designed, much like a pro artist may have to do when joining a new comic. It’s a challenge to stay within the lines while keeping my personal flare, but its certainly been fun so far.

I’ve managed to read a bit more than usual, so have picked up new books and comics lately. Some of these have been influential, such as The Devils’s Beat by Robert Edric, and others are inspirational, such as seeing new comics from my mates Tony Esmond and Adam Falp (Atomic Hercules) and finally having my mind blown by Fraser Campbell and Iain Laurie’s House of Sweets. If any of these are new to you, I advise you to rectify this!

Taking in new things is definitely encouraging me to try new art and writing styles, and to explore different ways of telling a story. Samuel George London (of Milford Green fame) made me aware of the Studio Binder Story Circle when we both chipped into a Twitter thread on comics writing. This was great for me to see, and is the sort of thing I miss out on usually, as I tend to consider myself more of an illustrator than a writer. It’s something I probably wouldn’t have known to look for, so I was really pleased to have discovered it.

As I move on with the next development on issue 5 of Heads! its going to be really important for me to refer to new things. I have my first big fight scene to draw and a complex reveal to deploy which will tie up many loose ends but cut others looser, so these are writing and drawing challenges I haven’t faced before. If I want to keep people like you as fans of Heads! I’ll need to be at the top of my game – I will endeavour not to let you down!

Chewing bubblegum and kicking ass

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Anybody catch They Live on the Horror Channel last week? It’s one of my favourite movies ever, and definitely my favourite John Carpenter movie (yes, above Halloween, which you all know I am obsessed with too).

I first saw They Live back in the early 90’s and loved it immediately. My dad put it on (it’s one of his favourites too) and he knew I’d be hooked. Horror and sci-fi movies are as much of an influence on my comics and art as anything else. They Live has been a massive reference point for Heads! and will be a movie I’ll continue to watch periodically as I develop the story further. Though I keep getting told Heads! reminds people of Dick Tracy and The X-Files (which are influences), I’d say I draw a lot of my Heads! ideas and plot methods from They Live and Luther more than anything else.

If you are looking for some awesome new comics to read (other than mine, of course, which are free to read on this website) I urge you to go and back the Little Heroes Comics Anthology on Kickstarter. I love this charity and all it stands for, so I’d love to see more people supporting them. If you haven’t heard of them, they create and distribute comics creation kits to children staying in hospital wards. That’s a pretty awesome thing to do, in my opinion, so I insist you all go and either back the new anthology or donate to them so they can provide a kit to a child.

Make sure you are tuning into the Awesome Comics Podcast on Monday as I am their guest! Yep, these guys decided that it would be a good idea to have me talk on their show for two hours – a decision they may live to regret! I will be talking about all things comics, giving you all the low down on Heads! and re-capping on my experience of organising and hosting Wimbledon Comic Art Festival last November.

Radvent Day 2 – Do You Love Me

My second radvent post is a homage to one of my favourite bands – KISS!

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I’ve been a huge Kiss fan since I was a kid and have always loved this song. The opening lines always seemed to have a story of their own to tell, and as a comic creator I couldn’t help by latch onto that.

Visual storytelling is a huge part of what us comics creators do. So, I decided to take the start of this song and convey the imagery of it in actual illustration. Plus, I wanted to have a go at drawing Gene Simmons, which turned out to be loads of fun (even though it’s actually Paul Stanely who sings this one…)

This piece was really successful as a Valentine’s Day card earlier this year, so I had some A6 prints done for Wimbledon Comic Art Festival. There are still a few left, so head over to my store to grab one while they last!

Check back tomorrow for more #radvent!

Under the influence: Razor Blade Smile

“I bet you think you know all about vampires. Believe me….you know fuck all!”

I’ve been a fan of this low budget British vampire flick since it came out. As a massive fan of Hammer horror and 80s video nasties, Razor Blade Smile appealed to me as it clearly draws on both of these genres. There is plenty of sex, gore and tongue-in-cheek humour thoughout, as well as an over-blown plot, all of which adds up to an extremely entertaining B-movie. The movie follows Lilith Silver, hired gun assassin and centuries old vampire, who is slowly uncovering a sinister link between some of the people she has recently been hired to execute. I would absolutely love to work on a comic adaptation of this movie, or a mini series of the further adventures of Lilith Silver. If director Jake West or star Eileen Daly like the sound of this please get in touch!

I reviewed the movie for horror website Attack From Planet B and you can follow this link to read my review. Rather than duplicate the review here, I thought I’d talk about about why this movie has been an influence on my comics and art.

I love 80s and 90s horror, and anything that goes over the top is just fine with me. I also really like cheesy dialogue and humour in my B-movies, and Razor Blade Smile has this in spades. It bobs and weaves between the main plot and peering into the private lives of urban ‘vampires’, which has been a great inspiration to me in respect of constructing scripts and story ideas.

The look of the movie is suitably low budget and makes the most of pouring sexy scream queen Eileen Daly into an impossibly tight latex catsuit for and positioning her against stereotypical villain characters. The whole thing looks like its leapt out of the pages of a horror comic and jumped into your VHS player. There is blood everywhere and the sex / death scenes are erotic as they are gory. Its a constant go-to movie for me when it comes to wanting something that gives me my fix of any of these things and gives me repeated inspiration to draw and write B-movie style comics. Both Brutal Bombshells and Rock In Purgatory have been influenced by the type of outrageous visuals and scripting that Razor Blade Smile has to offer.

Its not a movie everyone will like. Given its low budget status its beyond the tastes of mainstream horror fans and due to its age (the movie was originally released in 1998) many new indie horror fans may either not have heard of it or find it dated. But if you like things like ‘Dead Hooker in a Trunk’ from the Soska Sister,s Razor Blade Smile’s production values will sit well with you.

For your vulgar delectation…..here’s the whole film….

Under the influence: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Nancy says 'No'

This movie ruined my childhood. I can’t express enough how terrified I was of Freddy Krueger as a kid. Everything about him is horrific. Specifically during the first three movies Freddy looked so scary and was a character so evil that he and his creator, Wes Craven, revolutionised horror.

It’s incredible that I ended up not just being a horror fan but also a big Elm Street fan. As my interest in other horror movies grew, through the excellent Hammer Horror output and movies like An American Werewolf In London and Halloween, I knew I’d have to face my childhood fears and face Freddy eventually. And when I did it was quite an experience. NOES was certainly scary but the creativity in it was mind blowing. Though still unsure of how safe I was in his knife-gloved hands I found myself watching all the movies in the franchise. My love for these movies started to grew out of a pseudo Stockholm syndrome and before I knew it I was nearly as much a fan as Brutal Bombshells script writer Craig Jex.

 

The first movie is like no other, but I’ve always felt that the second one features the scariest imagining of Freddy. Look at him in that movies, he’s fucking horrific! Dream Warriors was yet another massive jump in style and imagination, and is the movie that made me a Nancy fan. She was a perfect foil for Freddy, not just fighting him but finding the heart of his weaknesses. The fact that she has the courage to enter his dream world and fight him on his own turf is amazing, making it all the more upsetting when, ultimately, Freddy kills her.

I have a lot of Elm Street inspired art and Nancy features in a few pieces. In fact, though Freddy’s horror-chic is obviously conveyed, Nancy is more prominent an influence in my concepts and is a character I often come back to in my work.